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Memories will fall along with theater

When the Pasco Theater in Dade City is demolished sometime soon, a lot of my memories will be reflected in the dust cloud.

And good intentions of several area residents aside, it probably will be demolished. Those who like to compare efforts to save it to those that saved the massive oaks around the old courthouse a couple of years back are confusing sentiment with money.

All it took to save the trees was a couple of politicians seeing the writing on the wall that told them they would soon be looking for real jobs.

There are no politicians involved in the Pasco Theater situation; that's the bottom-line business folks. And, sadly, from a strictly business standpoint, the demolition makes sense.

I frequently went to the theater, which, with a hand-lettered sign reading "the Last Picture Show," advertised its final showing Thursday (of Runaway Bride). And I, with equal frequency, was the only person in the auditorium during recent screenings, meaning they are losing money by running the projector and air conditioning for that 90 minutes. Other times I am one of maybe three or four people.

It is true that the same thing sometimes happens at multiscreen theaters, but you can afford to lose money on one or two screens if the other 10 or 14 are bringing it in.

Art deco relics like the Pasco are endangered, unlike the Tampa Theater or the Polk Theater in Lakeland, where they are lovingly maintained as restoration projects and have a large enough population to attract sizable audiences to film festivals and screenings of classics or avant-garde offerings.

The Pasco has neither going for it and so will probably bite the dust and give Dade City just what it needs, another bank. (That's sarcasm, for those of you who don't live in Dade City. We have more banks and auto parts stores per capita than Cassadaga has psychics.)

But, ahh, the memories.

One of the first things I learned when I moved to Dade City was the distinction between a "walk-in" movie date and a "drive-in" outing. Although drive-in dates are fine, a woman whom you asked there on a first date would assume that you didn't want to be seen with her, she wasn't worth putting on long pants for or you thought you could skip the preliminaries and get right down to what Ann Landers calls "heavy petting." Asking for a "walk-in" date was a big plus.

During the gasoline shortage in 1974, it was so hard to get gas that I used to drive my girlfriend from 5 miles south of town into Dade City to work on Saturdays and then, rather than use the gas required for another round trip, catch a matinee and spend the rest of the day drinking coffee at the Crest Restaurant.

During the months and years that I worked myself out of the poverty resulting from a nasty divorce settlement (and, despite what one letter writer had to say recently, I do pay all my bills, just not as quickly as some creditors would like) I, and later on my wife and I, spent a lot of Tuesday nights enjoying "dollar night" at the Pasco, where, along with all of the other poor people, we got to see a movie for a buck.

As at the equally attractive Home Theater in Zephyrhills, the folks at the Pasco have never tried to gouge you for sodas and popcorn the way the big multiplexes do. And a couple of times I and friends have seen Ada Smith, the theater's manager, let a poor single parent who couldn't afford her own ticket accompany her children into the movie.

Not all of the memories are rosy.

The Pasco was one of the last vestiges of segregation in Dade City, with African-Americans sitting in the balcony (ironically, by far the better seats) and whites down below. Even after that became illegal, the practice continued for years in a form of de facto segregation that only ended when the balcony was declared unsafe.

But that was evidence of a city in transition from past to present and, alas, so is the impending demolition of the theater and the unlikelihood that anything similar to it will be available in Dade City for a long time.

I guess we'll all be able to drive by the new bank and watch Bubba try to figure out the ATM after his second six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

But, somehow, it won't be the same.